Bring On The Life Care For Successful Aging

How sexy is that? (Can’t we just not talk about getting old?)

The baby boomers are a demographic bulldozer. As that big hump in the population vs. age graph slides across time it transmutes everything in its path. And at long last, it’s retirement accommodations that are getting a redo. “Life Care” and “Successful Aging” are the latest marketing buzzwords. Amenities galore. And increasingly, seniors are seeking retirement communities in big city downtowns, with the aim of staying culturally active.

Seattle currently has two projects under construction that are representative of these latest trends in retirement: Skyline at First Hill (rendered above) and Mirabella.

Skyline is 26-story, full-block project at 9th and Columbia on the steep west slope of First Hill. Developed by Greystone Communities for Presbyterian Retirement Communities Northwest, and designed by Perkins Will, the 199-unit complex will offer residents independent living, as well as access to assisted living, skilled nursing, and memory support, if needed — a.k.a., “life care.” You pay an up-front fee to get in, and that gets you a discounted rate on any expensive care you may need in the future. Everything is taken care of. Isn’t it fun to think about such scenarios?

In line with the tastes of retiring boomers, Skyline common areas will include a fitness center with indoor pool, a club room with outdoor patio, an auditorium, several dining rooms, and a library. Boomers also want the full spectrum of urban amenities within walking distance, and First Hill is a relatively walkable neighborhood, though I-5 is an imposing barrier to downtown, and the steep hill on the site is likely not doable for many seniors.

Mirabella (shown above) is a 12-story, u-shaped building that covers the entire block at the NE corner of Denny and Fairview, on the southern edge of the South Lake Union (SLU) neighborhood. Developed by Pacific Retirement Services and designed by Ankrom Moisan, it is a startlingly massive new presence. Three of the four sides go virtually straight up to 12 stories from the property line. It seems to belong in Florida.

Like Skyline, Mirabella will offer “life care.” And not to be outdone, the 400-unit project includes all the amenities Skyline has, plus a wine tasting room. Its marketability as walkable is a bit of a stretch — neither SLU, nor the Denny Triangle neighborhood across Denny Way are especially compelling to explore on foot, though both can be expected to improve over time. I wish them the best of luck crossing Denny.

The growing cultural preference for retirement communities in urban cores is an opportune evolution for creating more sustainable regions. Urban infill for seniors takes development pressure off of outlying areas, and puts density where it belongs. These projects will help raise residential densities to levels that create vibrant, walkable streets and make mass transit viable. At the same time, they provide seniors with an alternative to being put out to pasture in isolated suburban retirement homes. And one big bonus for the city: many seniors can’t, or don’t want to drive cars.

Overall, it’s a win for the people and a win for the planet. As it should be. Indeed, as it must be, since everything is connected.